What takes you into the heart of simplicity?


What can you do that takes you to the heart of simplicity?
We can all of us cut through it all, and achieve simplicity through focus.

Bizarrely – to me at least – both Muhammad Ali and Garry Shandling found focus via boxing, of all things.

“Boxing is all publicity,” said the dear-departed Muhammad Ali when he met Sri Chinmoy in September 1978.

He was the greatest at publicity. It’s no surprise that the wonderful man who let us know he was “so mean I make medicine sick” was a huge influence on hip hop and its
braggadocious tendencies.*

I’m no boxing expert, but I am pretty certain Ali could lay claim to being the greatest when it comes to boxing. He had developed ultimate technique, focus and mastery. He had also perfected publicity. But Ali told Sri Chinmoy that the publicity should not be confused with the man and his true focus. He wanted to learn, to teach and to share:

“This is not really my heart. This is just outer appearance to
promote fights. I don’t really feel this way.
[…] I want to get out of this brashness, this image. I am just a humble servant and I
have a lot to learn. I need people like yourself to teach me what to
say and what to do and how to approach certain things.”

For Chinmoy, Ali’s humility was quiet evidence of his true worth:

“You don’t have to say that you are the greatest, but your heart of oneness with all humanity makes you the greatest.”

Love and wisdom is in that silence
As well as being a comedian, the late Garry Shandling was a Buddhist (as I recently blogged).
In later life, he sought a Zen focus in all aspects of life.

In an August 2011 interview with filmmaker Kevin Smith, talks about a new, Zen-informed approach to his stand-up comedy that he was developing. It was about fearlessly allowing oneself to be – and forcing the audience to be – in the moment. It was also oddly confrontational.Shandling says:

“Sometimes I’ll just stop in stage. I’ll let the audience come to a complete stop, which is incredibly awkward. It’ll be dead silent in the club. And I’ll stand there and I’ll let it be silent. And I’ll say: ‘You know? Love and wisdom is in that silence.’”

I was amazed to learn that in his later years, Shandling was also a boxer. I was all the more amazed to learn why he was a boxer, and what he got out of it.


Shandling would doubtless have been the
first to own that he was not in Ali’s league. Nor did he want to be.

Shandling viewed threw himself into boxing as almost an extension of his Buddhism, a form of Zen meditation.

As in Zen meditation, boxing is about moving beyond conscious thought to exist truly and purely in the moment. 
He tells Smith how his coach would scream at him from the side of the ring: “I can hear you thinking!”

Shandling says:

“You have to outgrow those voices in your head. As soon as the other fighter affects your emotions, you’ve lost.

You’re supposed to be. You’ve gotta have some technique first,
then you can be. The second you’re not yourself, you actually are going
to get hit. You’re more likely to get hit trying to outthink him.”

This is fascinating to me.

Once you have developed ability and technique in an activity, you can lose yourself fully in that activity. But this losing yourself is actually being yourself.

Focus is a sharp knife
Violence of any sort is not my cup of coffee; there is no way I will ever step near a boxing ring. Writing is more my style. Once the words begin to flow out, I can lose myself completely in writing. Focus becomes a kind of mindlessness. I love the words Shandling shares with Smith on focus:

“A buddy I train with has a sign up in his gym that says: ‘Focus is a
sharp knife that cuts through exterior noise and goes into the heart of
simplicity.’ Those are the lessons in boxing.”

Since around the time of my birthday in March this year, I’ve been giving yoga a try. As I’ve blogged before, I’m probably pretty hopeless at it. But I will bear with it. I love the focus it brings, and how the experience of it changes and evolves each time. As much as some of the technique of it is about flexibility and physical contortion, what it really seems to be building towards is a focus on breathing and being. It goes into the heart of simplicity. And it makes me happy. What gives you that feeling?



* Although – as The Guardian rightly notes, as regards Ali and hip hoop  – “it’s the spirit of what he meant that courses through the music.”

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